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US students’ art and writing wins regional recognition

Twenty-three Upper School (US) students received 39 citations of recognition this month when the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (SAWA) announced the winners of their regional competitions. Students from across the country were awarded Gold Keys, Silver Keys, or honorable mentions for works they submitted in a variety of categories this fall.

SAWA, a nonprofit organization founded in 1923, strives to recognize artistic and literary talent in middle and high school students in the U.S. Of the over 12,000 submissions in the Massachusetts region, 3,308 won regional awards, according to the SAWA website. The school’s winners of the regional Gold Key award were Cat Buchatskiy, Laila Shadid, Samiha Datta, Harry Golen (all ’19), Justin Kim, Maia Pandey (both ’20), and Kate Constan ’22. Additionally, eight students won Silver Keys and 13 earned honorable mentions, with nine students winning awards for more than one work. The works of regional Gold Key winners have advanced for consideration in a national pool by SAWA judges in New York City, who will announce the national medalists on March 13. 

Cat, the only student who won a Gold Key, Silver Key, and honorable mention, also received a nomination for the American Voices Award. Five works of writing from each of 42 regions are nominated for the award before a panel of jurors in New York City selects one medalist for each region. In consideration for the medal is Cat’s personal essay, “My Father’s Mistress.” She wrote the piece—and her three others recognized by SAWA—for her English 12 fall elective, True Stories and the Personal Essay, in which English Teacher Allison Kornet gave students a variety of prompts on the way to completion of personal portfolios. 

Cat said the final prompt, to undertake and write about a “novel or un-you experience,” inspired “My Father’s Mistress” after she decided to take a walk by herself on a frigid winter day and contemplate why she hates the cold.

“I did not start out the essay intending to grapple with my father’s absence and seasonal depression, but when I started trying to give background, I began to connect the dots,” she said. “It poured out of me, a story which I didn’t know existed and had only understood in bits and pieces.”

The result was a piece detailing her journey from life in Brazil, where she didn’t know what cold was, to life in Ukraine, where her dad brought the family before departing somewhat abruptly and leaving Cat to fend off the snow on her own, she said. 

“I began to understand what it was about the winter that triggered this intense sadness,” she said. “So what started out being a simple paper about the snow ended up unlocking my repressions and finally bringing to light exactly why I struggled in the wintertime.”

“It was so validating to have won awards for this work and to feel as though my voice was heard,” she added. “But even if I hadn’t won anything, the process of writing the essays was extremely eye-opening and helped me deal with a lot, and that was reward enough for me.”

Laila also earned an American Voices Award nomination for her Junior Profile from last spring, “Tough as Nails: A Profile of Kelly Nguyen,” which won third place in the school’s Profile contest. The essay, submitted to SAWA’s Journalism category, profiled a manicurist who came to the U.S. 33 years ago as a refugee from Vietnam. 

Laila said she enjoyed the writing process and especially the experience of interviewing her subject.

“I really liked having the opportunity to combine my love for journalism and creative writing,” she said. “I also enjoyed getting to know Kelly and the nail salon I’ve been visiting for the past seven years.”

Having also won a National Gold Medal last year for a personal essay about her father, Laila said she thought she might as well submit again this year and was pleased with the result.

“I was obviously very happy and excited to hear the news, but more than that, I appreciated receiving validation for something I’m passionate about: writing,” she added.

English Teacher Sarah Getchell, Laila’s mentor during the Junior Profile writing process, said she was not at all surprised when she learned that Laila had won another Gold Key.

“Laila entered her junior year with a background and strong interest in journalism,” she said. “Her experience on The Vanguard and her voracious reading of her father’s work and the work of other great journalists, coupled with her natural curiosity and interest in people, made the profile the perfect assignment for her. Her piece straddles the line between journalism and creative nonfiction and is a very engaging read!”

Jayanth Uppaluri ’20, a Silver Key recipient in the Short Story category, submitted “Just a Walk” about a dystopian future in which everyone works for “The Corporation” and no one ever goes outside. The story, which Jayanth said was inspired by a dream, follows a man who goes outside for the first time in 20 years. 

Having also submitted a few analytical essays and a poem, Jayanth said he was taken aback by his short story earning recognition. 

“When I won, I was like, ‘Wait… I won?’” Jayanth said. “I didn’t expect to win anything because I wasn’t incredibly excited about this work in particular. There was some other stuff I submitted that I thought would be better. I was very surprised.”

But the originality of his idea might have given him an edge, Jayanth said.  

“I wouldn’t have come up with that idea on my own if I hadn’t dreamt about it!” he said. “I thought it was a bit rough at the beginning, but I tried to use lots of descriptive language and imagery in there, and I thought that was what made it a good story.”

Pierce Haley ’19 received two honorable mentions for personal essays he wrote in Ms. Kornet’s workshop. “Finding Home at 6,000 Feet’’ describes his passion for hiking and exploring the wilderness, and “Going Vegan,” submitted to the contest’s Humor category, describes his personality change when he forces himself to alter his eating habits for a week. Pierce said the news he had won came as a surprise when, even before receiving an official email, he received a text from a friend who had heard of his award through a teacher.

“I didn’t necessarily think ‘Finding Home at 6,000 Feet’ was one of my favorite essays, but ‘Going Vegan’ was pretty funny,” Pierce said. ‘’I think that’s the best piece I had written over the course of the semester, so I’m glad that it won.’’

Justin, the only student to receive a Gold Key in the art portion of SAWA, also earned two honorable mentions in the Mixed Media and Painting categories. Justin created his Gold Key winning sculpture, “Metamorphosis,” out of balloons, rice paper, and air pillows to form what he called “coconuts” in a variety of shapes and sizes. Inside the coconuts he installed lights, and he hung them up in a tree with invisible fish string. Justin photographed his sculpture at night and submitted the image to SAWA.

Justin said “Metamorphosis” expresses the process of human development, with the coconuts symbolic of all the positive and negative effects humans have on the environment.

“Humans must nourish these cocoons by caring for the environment in order for them to hatch into a strong and beautiful butterfly” he said. “However, if humans fail to preserve the environment, the butterfly will hatch into a weak insect that cannot survive the harsh world.”

“I believe that if humans work together to become educated on creating a better environment for the world,” he added, “we can solve the issue of human-produced climate change.”

Justin, who has won a SAWA prize every year since eighth grade, said he makes all of his artwork at Studio Norma in Brookline.

“It always feels good to be awarded for the hard work that you put in,” he said. “In some ways, winning the Scholastic prize makes me motivated to work even harder and make more artwork the next year.”

Tufts University will host an awards ceremony on March 16 to recognize the regional winners, and a Gold Key exhibit will be on display at Tufts from March 16 to 25. Other students recognized by SAWA include Halley Douglas, Armeen Golshan, Dylan Hanson, Annabel Kiley, Ella Mallinger, Sam Moskow, Avik Sarkar (all ’19), Nicholas Kolbas, Julia Lang (both ’20), Eloise Berman, Bea Scanlon (both ’21), Sofia Piccirillo, and Julia Shepard (both ’22).

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